The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Licensed, built, sold, hated, flopped, buried, mythologized, unearthed, hacked, fixed. *

* (Restored)


‘Atari’s tendency to port arcade games for its home console had led to some of its most commercially successful games, including the port of its own coin-op Asteroids, and the licensed versions of Taito’s Space Invaders and Namco’s Pac-Man. But Atari faced great difficulty as a result of its video game adaptation of the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The game, also titled E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, was a result of a deal between Warner Communications and the film’s director Steven Spielberg. The objective of the game was to guide the eponymous character through various screens to collect three pieces of an interplanetary telephone that will allow him to contact his home planet.



‘The concept of a video game based on a film, instead of porting an arcade coin-op or building on an established franchise, was unheard of at the time. It was later reported that Warner had paid $20–25 million for the rights, which was at the time quite a high figure for video game licensing. The problem was, rights were acquired in August 1982, leaving designer Howard Scott Warshaw with only five weeks to get E.T. ready for the holiday season.


Top Ten “Atari 2600” Commercials


‘Atari manufactured 5 million cartridges for the game; however, upon its release in December 1982, only 1.5 million copies were sold, leaving Atari still holding onto far more than half of the game cartridges. The game was critically panned, and is now seen as one of the worst ever made. Tina Amini, deputy editor at gaming website Kotaku, says the game tanked because “it was practically broken.” A recurring flaw, she said, was that the character of the game, the beloved extraterrestrial, would fall into traps that were almost impossible to escape and would appear constantly and unpredictably.


E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600) Walkthrough and Easter Eggs


‘Kevin Bowen of GameSpy’s Classic Gaming called the gameplay “convoluted and insane”, also criticizing its story for departing from the serious tone of the film. Author Steven Kent described the game as “infamous” within the industry, citing “primitive” graphics, “dull” gameplay, and a “disappointing story”. Emru Townsend of PC World discussed the game with a group, and found a universal dislike for the pits that E.T. falls into, describing it as “monotonous”. Reiley ranked it number one in a list of the 20 worst games of all time in Electronic Gaming Monthly. Michael Dolan, deputy editor of FHM magazine, has also listed the game as his pick for the worst video game of all time.



‘The game is considered to be one of the causes of the video game industry crisis of 1983. By the end of 1982, Atari had begun to lose dominance as more competitors entered the market. Poor critical reception and lack of a profitable marketing strategy made this game one of many cited decisions that led Atari to report a $536 million loss in 1983 and led to the company being divided and sold in 1984. GameSpy’s Classic Gaming called E.T. Atari’s biggest mistake, as well as the second largest financial failure in the history of the industry. The game’s poor quality was responsible for ending the product life of the Atari 2600.


The E.T. pit problem


‘In September 1983, the Alamogordo Daily News of Alamogordo, New Mexico reported in a series of articles, that between 10 and 20 semi-trailer truckloads of Atari boxes, cartridges, and systems from an Atari storehouse in El Paso, Texas were crushed and buried at the landfill within the city. It was Atari’s first dealings with the landfill, which was chosen because no scavenging was allowed and its garbage was crushed and buried nightly. Starting on September 29, 1983, a layer of concrete was poured on top of the crushed materials, a rare occurrence in waste disposal. An anonymous workman’s stated reason for the concrete was: “There are dead animals down there. We wouldn’t want any children to get hurt digging in the dump.”



‘The cartridge dump was a monstrous fiasco for Atari, at least from the perspective of a small desert town. The company, he says, brought truckloads from El Paso, where at the time scavenging was allowed in the city’s landfills. “Here, they didn’t allow scavenging. It was a small landfill, it had a guard.” The guard, however, was either away or unable to stop scores of teenagers from rummaging through the Atari waste and showing up in town trying to sell the discarded products and equipment from the backs of pickup trucks, Lewandowski, said. Eventually, the city began to protest the large amount of dumping Atari was doing. The local manager ordered the dumping to be ended shortly afterwards.


The ET Burial Theory


‘All of these factors have led to wide speculation that most of the 3.5 million unsold copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ultimately wound up in this landfill, crushed and encased in concrete. The conflicting information surrounding the burial has led to the claim of it being an “E.T. Dump” being referred to as an urban legend, which in turn has led to a degree of skepticism and doubt over the veracity of the dumping story itself, and the relevance of conflating the event with the later industry downturn.



‘As recently as October 2004, Howard Scott Warshaw, the programmer responsible for the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial game expressed doubts that the destruction of millions of copies of the game ever took place. Writing for the Pacific Historical Review, John Wills has also described the burial as an urban legend, calling it “widely acknowledged but rarely substantiated”. Wills believed that the location’s place in the public psyche—its proximity to the sites of both the Trinity nuclear test and Roswell UFO incident—has aided the popularity of the story.



‘The search for the trove of discarded cartridges has taken on a sort of mythical importance for some gaming fans, who see the mystery of what became of millions of consoles as an explained event in digital culture. It’s part of a broader field some call “archaeogaming” that, as you might guess, combines elements of archaeology with the study of video games. And then there’s the simple nostalgia for the 1980s in general. A comment by gamer Kascha Klaussen sums up those sentiments nicely: “I wish that the second they pulled the first shovel full of dirt out of the ground over this pit, the entire Earth would be pulled inside out centered entirely on this spot and when it came right side up again? It would be 1982 again and I could be in the arcade with my girlfriends trying to impress boys and waiting to go see Tron with them while Love Plus One plays over the loudspeakers.”


Project moving forward


‘On May 28, 2013, the Alamogordo City Commission granted Fuel Industries, a Canadian entertainment company, six months of access to the landfill to film a documentary about the burial and to excavate the dump site. Xbox Entertainment Studios plans to air this documentary series as an exclusive to the Xbox One and Xbox 360 in 2014. Though the excavation was momentarily stalled due to a complaint by the New Mexico Environmental Protection Division Solid Waste Bureau citing potential hazards, the issues were resolved in April 2014 to allow the excavation to proceed. Excavation started on April 26, 2014 as an open event to the public. E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial designer Howard Scott Warshaw and director Zak Penn attended the event as part of a documentary about the burial.



‘About 200 of residents and game enthusiasts gathered to watch backhoes and bulldozers dig through the concrete-covered landfill. But strong winds that kicked up massive clouds of dust mingled with garbage led some to leave the Alamogordo site. Among the watchers was Armando Ortega, a city official who back in 1983 got a tip from a landfill employee about the massive dump of games. “It was pitch dark here that night, but we came with our flashlights and found dozens of games,” he said. They braved the darkness, coyotes and snakes of the desert landfill and had to sneak past the security guard. But it paid off. He says that so far they’ve found hundreds of crushed cartridges, a dozen of which they took home and were still playable in their game consoles.



‘Assuming the initial trove of hundreds of unearthed E.T. games is just the tip of the iceberg and millions of the games turn up, one of the gaming world’s greatest mysteries and legends will be solved, but what to do with the game itself, which remains a shitty disaster to play? is here to help. They have created a fix for the game that requires only a basic understanding of hex editor’s basic functions. Some of the many fixes include making the game less incredibly hard to play, removing the problem that causes E.T. to fall into the dreaded pits every time any part go his body visually overlaps them, changing E.T.’s inexplicable yellow color into his natural green. To turn E.T. into a playable and possibly even fun game, you need only open your NTSC E.T. ROM in a hex editor and make the following changes.’ — collaged


– E.T. is Not Green
17FA: FE FC F8 F8 F8
1DE8: 04

– Difficulty Fix (Walk, Run, Hover)
0707: A4 F8
071B: A4 F8
0685: A4 F8
0FEF: AD 82 02 29 08 4C 4E BB
0B4D: 60 4A 4A 4A 49 01 85 F8
04F0: A5 81 29 1E

– Falling Fix
002A: 4C F6 BB
0BF6: A5 9C 69 07 85 F6 4C AB BC
1013: 05 D9 65 E3 65 F6 85 8B 4C 4B F0
101E: 08 E4 8B D0 06 24 13 70 02 85 2C E4 9E 08 E8
102D: A4 86 8A
1034: 85 02 84 1C
1060: A5 87 85 1B A5 88 85 06 8A A8 B1 BA 85 0E B1 BC
1070: 85 0F E4 9F 4C 1E F0
18F3: 2E F0
0B40: A9 EF
07ED: E9 04
0BA5: 22

– Don’t Fall Leaving Forest on Right
0D54: 4A
0D6C: 01
– Ship Shouldn’t Crush Elliott
07BD: 4C D9 BA

058E: 85 F4 A5 DD 85 F5 65 F4 85 DD 69 10 EA EA
1382: 4C 9D F3
1395: A9 99 85 D3 85 D4 D0 09 A5 F8 D0 02 AA A8
13BD: A9 01 05 DE 85 DE A2 07 A0 70 20 41 F3 EA
1341: A5 D2 C9 0A F0 08 E9 10 85 D2 A2 04 A0 90 A5 DD
1351: F8 4C E9 F7
17E9: C9 1F 90 0A 8A 09 10 AA A5 D3 E9 07 85 D3 D8 60
13FD: A9 99 85 D3 85 D4 A9 00 85 F4 85 E3
147A: A9 00 85 DD 85 D9 85 94 A5 29 C5 DC B0 02 A5 DC
148A: 4C A5 F4

Note: If you don’t include the difficulty fix, make
the following change to the scoring fix:

– Easter Egg – Ninja E.T.
148A: A5 F4 C5 F5 D0 0C C9 03 D0 08 A9 AA 85 D2 85 D3
149A: 85 D4 4C A5 F4 EA EA EA

– Add Extra Game Option – Scientist Only
0471: E0 05
02ED: 29 01 F0 09





p.s. Hey. I’m away, but here’s a thing for you.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    “E.T.” was a huge event back in 1982. I saw a very early screening and was taken by surprise by its charm. But that charm didn’t last. Disenchantment set in when Spielberg gave Michael Jackson access to it. A special recording was made complete with pictures of the freak embracing the little gnome. My fondest memory is of mitting little Drew Barrymore at a press event (there’s a picture of her with me and Robert Osborne at my “Ehrensteinland” site) who was a True Phenom. The REAL movie story of that year was “Blade Runner.”

    • Dynomoose

      I was ten that summer. E.T. was huge for my friends and me. My mother worked at a mall and couldn’t afford a sitter. She’d take me to work with her and I’d spend most of the day at the movies. I don’t know how many times I saw E.T. That summer, but I’d memorized all of the lines.
      It was one of those rare films both appropriate and loved by children, while still hugely entertaining for their parents.
      A few years later, I finally appreciated Blade Runner.

  2. David Ehrenstein

    Regarding Landfill

  3. steevee

    I haven’t seen E.T. since it came out, when I was 10. I loved it then, but my feelings about Spielberg are no longer so positive, with the exception of about 6 or 7 films.

    Here’s my review of Dash Shaw’s MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA:

  4. David Ehrenstein

    Just found Providence on You Tube!

  5. mike morey

    Never seen E.T. or played a video game although I get wanting to go back my 1980’s were all about punk rock.

  6. _Black_Acrylic

    Dodie Bellamy has a wonderful ET essay in her When The Sick Rule The World book. Now I think about that whenever I think about ET.

    Today I had the 2nd driving lesson and I’m improving incrementally.

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